10 for tomorrow: Move Spam museum?

As the Vision 2020 committee unveiled its final list of projects to implement by the end of the decade, the use of the old Austin Utilities building came to the front of the line. Committee members hope to house the Spam museum in the unused facility, which in turn could attract other businesses and establish an “art row” on Fourth Avenue, along with the Austin Public Library, the Paramount Theatre and the Hormel Historic Home. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Top ideas include moving Spam Museum to Austin Utililities Building for ‘art row’

By Adam Harringa, Trey Mewes and Jason Schoonover

Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series highlighting Vision 2020’s final 10 ideas. Look for indepth coverage of other ideas in the coming weeks, months and years.

Like Howie Mandel on NBC’s “Deal or No Deal,” Laura Helle unveiled the final 10 Vision 2020 projects one by one Wednesday night as a standing-room-only crowd sat in anticipation at the Hormel Historic Home.

Austin High School senior Matt Lunning reveals “Downtown Austin a Destination Point” Wednesday as one of the final 10 ideas to be developed as part of Vision 2020.

Helle, HHH executive director and 2020 steering committee member, introduced idea committee members who in turn picked up one of 10 briefcases, opened them away from the audience and slowly turned them to reveal what was inside.

The event, called the “Big Reveal,” was a milestone for Vision 2020 — a grassroots community betterment project launched in 2011 looking for 10 ideas to implement by 2020 — which narrowed a list of more than 4,000 ideas submitted by the community in September 2011 to 91 in December 2011, 30 in January and 10 last night. Now, Vision 2020 is looking for project committee members to work on each idea, starting with an informational meeting 6-8 p.m. Thursday, May 3 at Frank W. Bridges Auditorium on the Riverland Community College campus.

The list, which event chair Gary Ray said were categorized into “bucket lists,” encompasses the gamut of community improvement. The group split the top 10 into several lists: business development and attractions with a “gateway to Austin attraction,” the “revitalization of the Austin Utilities building,” a “business friendly environment” and making “downtown Austin a destination point”; health and recreation with an “expanded bike/walk system” and a “community recreational center”; technology with “community wide technology”; education with “education leaders”; clean water by “embracing and maintaining waterways”; and pride with “community pride and spirit.”

The goal, according to Ray, is two-fold: make Austin a better place to live, and make it a destination for others to visit.

“This is the most inclusive, open civic project of its kind that Austin, Minnesota, has attempted,” Ray told the crowd.

While simply naming the top 10 initiatives isn’t the finish line, Ray said, it is a pretty good start.

Austin’s Magic Kingdom: ‘Art row’ to feature Spam museum, attract other businesses

George Brophy prefaces his metaphor for Vision 2020’s top 10 ideas, and one project in particular, as being a tad “out there.”

He likens the vision of renovating the old Austin Utilities building and moving the Spam museum there — one of the final 10 projects to implement by the end of the decade — to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but on a slightly smaller scale.

The vision — which also proposes creating “Austin’s Art Row” on Fourth Avenue with the Spam museum, the Austin Public Library, the Paramount Theatre and the Hormel Historic Home — would also theoretically attract specialty shops, businesses, restaurants and other attractions.

While Disney World illuminates the Magic Kingdom building with lights and holograms every night, Brophy pictures lights inside and outside the new, bigger Spam museum, which could host specialty shops and unique eateries, too. When you take that idea, he said, and add others like revitalizing downtown, creating a community recreation center and expanding the trail systems, the individual projects start to intertwine.

“With the power plant, there’s a walkway around Mill Pond,” Brophy said. “And when you account for that path linked to bike paths linked to other parts of the community, the whole thing becomes a network of which that power plant is the root or pinnacle. It is the Magic Kingdom building.”

Before Vision 2020 existed, Brophy was one of a half dozen members of a power plant development group with a similar agenda; make that big, very visible piece of architecture useful. The group performed work with an architectural firm that has done a study on the plant, which gives the project a jump start.

“If we decide we’re interested in it, there’s an awful lot of good information that can be employed to move it ahead,” Brophy said.

Now, Hormel Foods Corp. is likely on board with the move, and the company and Vision 2020 have been in preliminary talks, according to Ray. Hormel said it remains open to the move, but has not made any formal agreement.

With Vision 2020’s goal of making Austin more attractive in mind, Brophy said, the city needs ways to separate itself from other towns of the same size and changing residents’ and potential residents’ mindsets.

“One of the ways you create interest is with major projects of the kind that the power plant can be,” he said.

Jerry Wolesky, idea committee member and manager at the Fawver Agency, agrees.

“The beauty of moving the Spam museum there, is the Spam museum is already a destination point,” he said. “But right now, you pull into the Spam museum, and after you go through the gift area, you leave again.”

But, with the Spam museum in the utility building, Wolesky said, it helps other businesses around it.

“That building, it has so much potential for development,” he said.

The fast lane: Austin bike trails to get makeover, additions

When Dr. Chet Rao looks at the top 10 list, he sees a string of pearls; each idea complete and a thing of beauty itself, but also a piece of a puzzle that when put together is greater than the sum of its parts. One project that epitomizes that analogy is an interconnected biking and walking trail system.

Mary Lou Jondal cheers as expanded bike/walk trail system is revealed Wednesday night as one of the 10 final ideas.

Rao, in strategy and business development with Hormel Foods and an idea committee member, said the trail system goal comes down to three things: informing citizens, maintaining the existing trails, and linking them in town and throughout southern Minnesota.

He added that the trail goal fits nicely with the waterway project, because as the waterways are maintained and cleaned, the trails become more attractive.

“They can be independently done but they all start making a big difference on how the community is viewed and the quality of life is improved,” Rao said.

Wolesky said in addition to expanding trails, they could also create expansive biking lanes on major roads throughout town and make bike travel safer. Another idea, he said, is to model the system after the trails in Lanesboro, Minn., where bikers, walkers and runners come from all over the region and in turn attract businesses and unique eateries like the famous Aroma Pie Shop in Whalen, Minn.

“Maybe that’s a little bit extreme, but maybe for Austin it’s an ice cream shop. Maybe it would be as simple as vending machines,” he said. “The visions are numerous.”

Another benefit: fitness.

“Healthier lifestyles is huge,” said Gretchen Ramlo, Idea Selection Committee member.

A key thing that stuck out to the committee about the trails from a geographic sense: Most of the more than 13 miles of bike trails are based on the outskirts of the city or along waterways like the Cedar River, Turtle Creek, East Side Lake and Mill Pond.

“Now our trails kind of go around our city, and we looked at them kind of going through our city,” she said.

If the paths go through the city, they could lead bikers to many Austin destinations like downtown, the Spam museum and more. As Ramlo said, the “paths bring people to our community.”

More bike trails won’t necessarily require extensive new construction. Trails could be expanded by adding bike lanes in the community, according to Ramlo.

The bike trails are already slated for expansion outside of town, as Austin could soon be the meeting point for two area trails. The plan is still to combine the Shooting Star Trail out of Rose Creek with the Blazing Star Trail out of Albert Lea.

The Shooting Star Trail has made it as far as Rose Creek, but has since stalled due to a lack of funding.

The Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota proposed $2.3 million in bonding from the state’s 2012 capital investment fund for the acquisition of 5.6 miles for the Shooting Star Trail, but the bill is still being discussed at the Capitol.

Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson said recently that he’s in the preliminary stages of planning the trail’s extension into Austin. A lot will depend on when supporters and community leaders secure funding.

Gerald Meier, a long-time member of Prairie Visions, previously said extending the trail to Austin would increase the number of people from Austin using the trail, and it would increase the length of the trail from about 20 miles to 30.

Move over, Google Fiber: 2020 has plan for citywide fiber optics, Internet

Remember Google Austin?

It seems many community members and Vision 2020 organizers do, as providing high-speed Internet access community-wide made the cut.

Gary Ray, chairman of the Hormel Foundation and Vision 2020, welcomes guests to the Big Reveal.

“There’s just a lot of plusses that that would bring to the community of Austin,” said Craig Hoium, Community Development Director.

Hoium was one of the Google Austin organizers that spearheaded efforts to get the technology corporation to select Austin as a trial city for its fiber optics experiment last year. Though Austin wasn’t selected — Google ultimately chose Kansas City, Mo. as its test city — Hoium said Google was interested in looking at five cities to install and test its fiber optics.

“I haven’t heard anything from [Google], but I know, in my conversations with them, they previously had expressed interest in Austin,” Hoium said.

Vision 2020 organizers say community-wide Internet would be a big draw to new residents and businesses alike, as faster Internet speeds mean better opportunities for groups like the Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin and Hormel.

“We did quite a bit of research about it,” said Ramlo. Ramlo said the project would help Austin attract more businesses and industry who need high-speed technology to operate.

“In terms of business and industry, it would be a perk that a lot of people don’t have,” she said.

In addition, Austin Public Schools would benefit from the higher Internet speeds, as more students could use online learning tools while in school.

“I think it’s a really vital aspect that each community needs to have, especially in this day and age,” said Austin High School senior and Idea Selection Committee member Olivia Grev. “So much of what we do in school and at work has become so much more technologically advanced.

“I thought it was something our community should be doing already. It’s going to really help out Austin and help us make improvements.”

While it’s uncertain how the Idea Committee for community-wide Internet access would tackle the project, Hoium hopes committee members follow in Google Austin’s steps and build on that organization’s efforts, even if it means going to a different technology to sponsor fiber optics or other high-speed Internet options.

While Rao said they plan to leave the technical aspect of it to experts, he suspects technology leaders will rally around the idea.

That, he said, is where the May 3 meeting comes in.

—To become a project committee member, visit vision2020austin.com to sign up. Vision 2020 has a project committee formation meeting 6-8 p.m. Thursday, May 3 at Frank W. Bridges Auditorium on the Riverland Community College campus. For more information, call the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce at 507-437-4561.

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